National Operations Center Webinar to Feature NJDOT’s Commercial Vehicle Alerts Initiative

The National Operations Center for Excellence will hold a webinar featuring New Jersey and Colorado DOT initiatives to establish private sector partnerships that use crowdsourced data to deliver real-time information to commercial vehicles to improve the safety of all road users.  Transportation agencies can now deliver in-cab alerts about road conditions through connected truck service providers to help commercial vehicle drivers approach and react more quickly to roadway incidents, work zones, and adverse weather conditions. Follow this link to register for the Crowdsourced Data for Commercial Vehicles webinar.

At the 1st Quarter 2022 STIC meeting, attendees received a briefing about the Commercial Vehicle Alerts initiative being undertaken by NJDOT and its several partners to proactively deploy alerts to improve safety and traffic incident management. Sal Cowan, NJDOT Senior Director, Transportation Mobility, was joined by Amy Lopez, Director, Public Sector Services and Smart City Strategy for INRIX, and Marc Nichols, Director, Government & Industry Partnerships for Drivewyze.

For more information about the Commercial Vehicle Alerts initiative, their presentation is here and a summary of the NJ STIC meeting that includes a recording of their featured presentation is here.

UHPC Bridge Preservation and Repair – NJ Efforts Highlighted

FHWA promotes UHPC for Bridge Preservation & Repair through its Every Day Counts (EDC-6) innovations. The FHWA's EDC Newsletter of April 28, 2022 featured Rutgers University's state-of-the-art Bridge Evaluation and Accelerated Structural Testing (BEAST) center.  FHWA has sponsored the use of the BEAST to evaluate emerging bridge preservation technologies including UHPC.  Below is a reprint of the newsletter article that recognizes these efforts as its Innovation of the Month for UHPC Bridge Preservation and Repair.

BEAST® Facility (Credit: Rutgers University)

Wouldn’t it be great to quickly test the performance of a UHPC bridge deck overlay? It can be challenging to test and evaluate the long-term performance of new bridge preservation innovations because it would normally take years of monitoring the in-service behavior of such a technology on actual bridge structures to make an adequate assessment. Alternatively, Rutgers University’s state-of-the-art Bridge Evaluation and Accelerated Structural Testing (BEAST®) center provides a new opportunity to evaluate emerging preservation technologies. Built in 2015, the BEAST facility aims to develop high-quality data of bridge deterioration and to expand our knowledge of bridge performance through full-scale accelerated testing. The facility is capable of enclosing a 50-foot long bridge within an environmental chamber and subjecting the bridge to realistic rolling wheel loads, freeze-thaw cycles, and even the application of deicing chemicals. As a result, this facility can impose 10 to 20 years of ageing in less than 12 months.

FHWA is sponsoring the first project to utilize the BEAST® facility, and seeks to establish the long-term performance of bare reinforced concrete bridge decks and overlay systems among other variables. A two lane, 50 foot simply-supported bridge built with steel girders was constructed and began accelerated testing in 2019. To date, it’s been subjected to over 2-million passes of rolling load, 85 freeze-thaw cycles, and over 3000 gallons of salt brine. As a result, deck deterioration has reached a point where, in practice, an overlay would commonly be installed for rehabilitation and preservation purposes.

Rolling-Load Assembly in BEAST® Lab (left); Bridge Specimen in BEAST® Lab (right) (Credit: Rutgers University)

UHPC is one of the overlay systems that will be installed on this bridge specimen for evaluation. The UHPC overlay will be installed using materials and construction practices that are commonly deployed in the field. Once installed, accelerated testing will resume for at least 12 months, or until significant deterioration is again observed. Data will be collected, which will help establish quantitative measure of the overlays’ ability to perform long-term and under realistic conditions. Data already shows that UHPC is long-lasting and resilient, but at the end of this research, researchers will be able to say with greater confidence how long UHPC overlays may last in service.

For more information on UHPC for Bridge Preservation & Repair, contact Zach Haber, FHWA Turner-Fairbank Highway Research Center, or Justin Ocel, FHWA Resource Center.

Project Bundling Webinar Series

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has provided webinar recordings as part of ongoing support for the EDC-5 Project Bundling Initiative. While project bundling is not an entirely new concept, these trainings share best practices and advanced methods for the most efficient and effective project bundling applications.  As shown below, several trainings were scheduled through May 2022. 

Upcoming Webinars

  • May 17, 2022: Project Bundling: Construction and Contract Considerations (Registration link)

Past Webinars

  • September 16, 2020: Advanced Project Bundling: Examples Beyond Bridges (Webinar link)
  • October 21, 2020: Moving Towards Advanced Project Bundling: Key Characteristics of Lead Agencies (Webinar link).  )
  • November 18, 2020: Advanced Project Bundling: Making the Business Case (Webinar link)
  • December 16, 2020: Project Bundling for Local Public Agencies (Webinar link)
  • January 20, 2021: Advanced Project Bundling: How To (Webinar link)
  • February 17,2021: Advanced Project Bundling: Overcoming Hurdles (Webinar link)
  • June 15, 2021: A Strategic Approach to Project Bundling: What Does Success Look (Webinar link)
  • August 17, 2021: Project Bundling: The Business Process (Webinar link) 
  • October 14, 2021: Bundling Implementation Best Practices Workshop: The Self-Assessment Tool (Webinar link)
  • October 19, 2021: Project Bundling: Planning and Capital Programming (Webinar link) 
  • January 18, 2022: Project Bundling: Preconstruction (Webinar link)
  • March 15, 2022: Project Bundling: Local Agency Partnering (Webinar link)

 FHWA contacts for the Project Bundling initiative are Romeo Garcia (Romeo.Garcia@dot.gov) and David Unkefer (David.Unkefer@dot.gov).  

Updated September 15, 2021

Exploring Strategic Workforce Development: An Interview with NJDOT’s Human Resources

FHWA is promoting Strategic Workforce Development in highway maintenance, construction and operations.

FHWA is promoting Strategic Workforce Development in highway maintenance, construction and operations.

Strategic Workforce Development, an FHWA Every Day Counts (EDC) Round 6 innovative initiative, anticipates collaboration between government agencies, trade organizations, private agencies and communities to prepare individuals for the construction workforce. The demand for workers in highway maintenance, construction and operations is growing, as is the demand for new skill sets required for work with emerging technologies. An important element of this initiative is the recruitment and retention of women and minorities in the construction sector.  Through on-the-job training and supportive services program, NJDOT is exploring ways to work with contractors, contracting associations, and unions on shaping their future workforces, including programs aimed at increasing representation of women, minorities, and other disadvantaged populations in the construction and operations workforce.

We spoke with Kelly Hutchinson, Director, Human Resources at NJDOT about ongoing and planned workforce development initiatives at NJDOT.

Workforce Development at NJDOT

Q. We know that NJDOT engages in a variety of innovative programs to attract and retain your workforce. Could you update us on the status of some of these programs?

Operations Apprenticeship Program

NJDOT’s Operations Apprentice Program offers a structured path to advancement

NJDOT’s Operations Apprentice Program offers a structured path to advancement.

This program began in 2015 to provide consistent training and skills for workers in Highway Operations and to establish a path to advancement and has focused on developing a job title structure and staffing profile for participants as well as both on-the-job and classroom training. We are still promoting the program and trying to get our numbers where we want them to be. We will be testing our third of four groups of mid-level individuals at the end of April 2022.

NJ Supervisory Training Empowering Performance (STEP) Training

This program is focused on teaching management skills and several hundred NJDOT employees have completed this very beneficial initiative. The Civil Service Commission provides this training, which has been on hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic as instructors prefer in-person classes. We offer a two-day, in-house training on DOT-specific supervisory issues like the supervisor’s role in promoting staff, leaves of absence, working test periods, performance assessment reviews (PARS) and discipline to build on what participants learn in STEP, but we may opt to offer this in-house training first if there is an ongoing delay in STEP availability. We have a lot of new staff advancing to supervisory and managerial roles who could benefit from this training. We would also bring in small groups from this supervisory cohort to participate in and benefit from a few Lunch & Learn sessions. In the past, these smaller group sessions have been very helpful for sharing experiences.

Leadership Academy

This is a Transportation specific Leadership Academy that focuses on the importance of soft skills related to management. In April, the NJ Turnpike Authority will be hosting this program locally with instruction from Dr. Tom DeCoster. Many of our manager-level and future directors will be attending, along with staff from NJ TRANSIT and the Turnpike Authority.

Skill Enhancement for Clerical and Administrative Professionals (SECAP)

This program was originally focused on skill enhancement for staff in clerical positions. Now, more individuals are being hired to fill administrative professional roles, rather than the traditional clerical roles. Persons with technical capabilities, such as policy writing and budget preparation, are filling these roles. In response, we are considering revamping this program to best support the needed skill sets related to these positions.

Administrative College

This program is ongoing and focuses on offering courses on topics such as financial wellness, mental and physical health, and technical skills that can be mastered in a couple of hours. We conducted a survey pre-pandemic to identify what our employees wanted in Administrative College courses.

Promotion of Asst. Engineers to Senior Engineers

NJDOT engineers participate in on-site training as part of a program that moves individuals from journey level to mid-level positions.

NJDOT engineers participate in on-site training as part of a program that moves individuals from journey level to mid-level positions.

This effort was initiated about seven years ago and we have continued the practice, adding programs for most journey level professional titles in Human Resources, Budget, Planning, Accounting, and Information Technology. When participants have completed one year past their initial training and have been in their journeyman title for two years, management determines whether they are performing higher level work and have mastered the technical skills to be considered a technical expert in the particular area. After three years, they may be considered for reclassification.  Management makes recommendations and provides written justifications to advance persons based on established criteria and must describe why they are recommending an individual, or why they are not. HR ensures that each individual has completed enough time in the title and gives a provisional appointment, but the candidate needs to pass the Civil Service exam to confirm their promotion.

This effort reflects both a retention strategy and a strategy to help bridge the supervisory gap resulting from retirements.

Succession Planning

Promoting continual skill development among NJDOT staff is a priority.

Promoting continual skill development among NJDOT staff is a priority.

Moving forward, NJDOT succession planning training and development will likely be less formalized than the previous NJDOT program. In this former program, participants were selected through an application process, which, in my opinion, may not have been ideal for all employees. Training and development should happen daily, at all levels, and should not be programmed by Human Resources. We are looking to promote parity, transparency and equity through the training programs we just spoke about. Our Leadership Academy and STEP program help workers to advance and instruct supervisors on how to support training and development of all employees. We are depending on management and senior leadership to work on a smaller scale. We want to provide the same level of opportunity to everyone and see who rises to the occasion.

Q. In a presentation to NJ STIC last June, former NJDOT Human Resources Director Michele Shapiro noted that you would be working on trainings for both the Construction Inspectors Apprenticeship program and the Engineering Technician Apprenticeship program. What is the status of these new programs? Do you anticipate developing similar programs for other job titles?

We have the new titles in place, but we do not have the formalized training program developed yet. I have spoken with Asst. Commissioner Snehal Patel and we will be collaborating with the Construction Director to start building the program this summer. Our plan is to update the existing 10-module program for the Resident Engineer Construction Inspectors to adapt to the Apprenticeship program.

Q. We had heard of the possible expansion of experience-based hiring. Are there any updates to this initiative?

Automotive and Electrical Mechanics would be the titles we are considering for a possible formalized program. There are trainees now but we don’t have a formal program. With all the advances in technology, we would like to find a community college partner to provide training and build a title structure based on the new technologies and see if it would increase the salary determination. We have trouble competing with private industries for candidates from these two trades. We are continuing efforts to receive approval for the program from Civil Service but effort was halted with the pandemic.

Q. Does NJDOT have plans to offer internships or similar positions?

We have a Summer Student program called Temporary Employment Services primarily targeted to professional titles. We do not refer to the program as an internship because participants are paid but do not earn academic credit. Typically, we accept rising college seniors, but if applications are light in a given cycle, we sometimes accept sophomores and freshmen as well. Pre-pandemic, it was a great pipeline for permanent positions with the department. In 2019, we had 55 students in the program, paid $20/hour, and 20 percent were hired for full-time positions with NJDOT. With our late start this year, we will have 20 participants. Some may stay with us into the school year, working part-time up to 944 hours per year as permitted by Civil Service.

NJDOT Human Resources staff attend career fairs to raise awareness of rewarding jobs in transportation.

NJDOT Human Resources staff attend career fairs to raise awareness of rewarding jobs in transportation.

The program is beneficial to participants as they receive work experience while earning wages. We recruit candidates via virtual and in-person career fairs, partnerships with alumni of the program and community organizations, campus organizations and using Handshake (an app that connects students on college campuses with open positions, mainly internships and entry level jobs). When we meet with students and other prospective hires, we focus on communicating how NJDOT offers dynamic, interesting, rewarding, and purposeful career opportunities.

Our talent acquisition team facilitates recruitment efforts and includes a diverse group of DOT subject matter experts in addition to our Human Resource representatives. Specifically, members of the team reflect a diversity of ages, genders, races/ethnicities, and career stages. Some are alumni of the Temporary Employment Services program. Also important, team member subject matter expertise varies (e.g., structural, environmental). We have found success with the talent acquisition team as members make personal connections with candidates as they discuss their roles at DOT and opportunities with the department.

Developing the Highway Construction Workforce

Q. There seems to be a lack of awareness – especially among women and minority persons – about jobs/careers in the highway construction industry. Do you know of programs that have been effective at building awareness of job opportunities in transportation in New Jersey?

To recruit a diverse workforce, NJDOT Human Resources focuses on forging relationships with community organizations such as the Society for Hispanic Engineers, Society for African American engineers, Asian American engineers, LGBTQ+, and STEM programs.  We use LinkedIn a great deal to target engineers and collaborate with New Jersey Youth Corps to spread the word on career opportunities at NJDOT.

We also successfully partnered with the Trenton Soup Kitchen, working with job specialists to inform those accessing the kitchen about construction apprenticeships and Highway Operations Tech positions. We have partnered with the National High School Guidance Counselors Association for New Jersey and were able to post in their newsletter about job opportunities that do not require experience via our highway operations tech program.

NJDOT’s programs for career are effective recruitment and retention tools.

NJDOT’s programs for career are effective recruitment and retention tools.

In 2019, we increased representation of African American male applicants by 93 percent for Highway Operations Tech positions. We achieved this goal by reaching out to our many community partners, with 100 African American applicants from the Trenton Soup Kitchen. Finally, we partner with the NJ Department of Labor, One-Stop offices, and attend county and other virtual and in-person job fairs.

Q. Reliable transportation and child care are often cited as roadblocks to entry into the construction sector, particularly for women and minority candidates. What strategies could help to address these issues? Are you aware of any model practices or programs to support women and minority populations looking at the highway construction trades?

We had a program for parolees several years ago that focused on identifying job opportunities for them in locations with good transportation networks, such as Jersey City and Newark.

NJDOT does offer an employee subscription van pool (pre-COVID-19) that accesses various public transit stops near DOT headquarters.

The newly announced Trenton MOVES project seeks to deploy 100 on-demand Autonomous Vehicles (AVs) throughout the state capital; when deployed, it could prove to be great service for helping people access employment opportunities.

Q. Have you worked with the NJ Council of County Colleges to look at possible programs that might advance NJDOT’s goals for workforce development? Do you work with the NJDOL Office of Apprenticeship?

We do collaborate with NJ DOL and with the One-Stops and Career Centers. However, our apprenticeships are not true apprenticeships by federal labor standards, but have similar components. Because we work with Civil Service titles, it is much more difficult for us to be recognized as an official apprenticeship program.

We also have a tuition aid and reimbursement program, at the public college rate, for employees as long as their course of study relates to transportation.

"Yes, we can work with them and are very interested in building these relationships."

Looking Ahead

Q. What strategies should be pursued to encourage more New Jerseyans to consider a career in the construction industry? Who should be leading or involved in those efforts?

Creation and implementation of an awareness campaign to highlight construction career opportunities would be helpful, as such an effort could amplify the message that you don’t have to look a certain way to work in construction. The campaign should highlight the diversity of workers and work options in the construction industry. A team of “ambassadors” comprised of local union representatives, NJDOT staff, and others can describe the different kinds of work available within construction and showcase opportunities to increase interest in the profession.

Q. There have been a number of grant funding opportunities through the Department of Labor for pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship programs. Is NJDOT able to work with other organizations or academic institutions to build programs using these funds?

Yes, we can work with them and are very interested in building these relationships.

Resources

NJ STEP. Civil Service Commission | NJ Supervisory Training Empowering Performance (NJ STEP).

NJDOT Division of Human Resources. Current Openings & Application Process.

NJDOT Division of Human Resources. KM Toolbox: Last Lecture on Operations Apprenticeship Program.  Presentation to NJ STIC, 2nd Quarter Meeting, 2021

Exploring Strategic Workforce Development in NJ: An Interview with the IUOE Local 825

FHWA is promoting Strategic Workforce Development in highway maintenance, construction and operations.

FHWA promotes Strategic Workforce Development in highway maintenance, construction and operations.

Strategic Workforce Development, an FHWA Every Day Counts (EDC) Round 6 innovative initiative, anticipates collaboration between government agencies, trade organizations, private agencies and communities to prepare individuals for the construction workforce. The demand for workers in highway maintenance, construction and operations is growing, as is the demand for new skill sets required for work with emerging technologies. An important element of this initiative is the recruitment and retention of women and minorities in the construction sector.  Through on-the-job training and supportive services program, NJDOT is exploring ways to work with contractors, contracting associations, and unions on shaping their future workforces, including programs aimed at increasing representation of women, minorities, and other disadvantaged populations in the construction and operations workforce.

We spoke with Greg Lalevee, Business Manager, International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) Local 825.  The organization is collaborating with Hudson County Community College (HCCC) on a newly established apprenticeship program and is undertaking other IUOE initiatives focused on workforce development in highway construction and related fields.

Background

Q. Can you tell us a little about your role with the union?

I am the Business Manager for the International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) Local 825. The jurisdiction of IUOE Local 825 is the State of New Jersey and the Hudson Valley (Rockland, Ulster, Sullivan, Orange, and Delaware Counties). We are heavy equipment operators, working on buildings, bridges, roadways, ports, airports, utility infrastructure, power generation, and reservoirs around the state such as Round Valley, Spruce Run, and Mercer Lake that ensure our water supply and serve for passive recreation. There isn’t much that an ordinary person does that operating engineers did not have something to do with. We have a 61-acre training center at exit 8A on the NJ Turnpike and a 51-acre training center in the Hudson Valley. I am also one of the vice-presidents for IUOE International, which covers the US and Canada.

Union members are engaged in many kinds of work using heavy equipment, including highway and bridge construction.

Union members engage in many kinds of work using heavy equipment, including highway and bridge construction.

Q. Overall, what professions does IUOE support?

Aside from heavy equipment operators, our members do construction layout and surveying for infrastructure projects. Several members work as mechanics/product support for machinery product lines including Caterpillar, Deere, and Komatsu.

Q. Before we delve into your new IUOE program with Hudson County Community College (HCCC), please tell us, based on your experience, if there is a lack of awareness– especially among women and minority persons – for jobs/careers in the highway construction industry?

The lack of awareness for construction careers reflects a multi-tiered situation. In contrast to those residing in more rural areas, prospective job candidates residing in urban areas typically live “vertically” in high-rises and thus are familiar with professions including plumbers and electricians but not so much the work of operating engineers. They are not typically exposed to professions utilizing heavy machinery.

For the last seven years, I have reached out to political and community leaders in several NJ cities to try to develop a direct-entry program that would bring training opportunities to those communities for jobs that are semi-skilled or lower-skilled. The goal was to work collaboratively with community leaders to create a pipeline for young people to enter the workforce as operating engineers. To operate heavy equipment, one needs hands-on training. Our training facility is on the Turnpike in Middlesex County, which is difficult to access for anyone without a car. In one city, we proposed that we set up basic courses, including OSHA 30-hour construction training and Hazardous Material training, in a school, or faith-based or community center, and we would send an instructor. The participants would be working locally during this time, earning money and accruing benefits. When the trainees had acquired some basic training we would then send the simulator to that location and these individuals could start to acquire hands-on training. After 18-24 months of paid training, they may be able to purchase a vehicle and thereby access the training center. Or we might be able to partner with a faith-based or community center to work out a transportation plan for those facing transport obstacles. I proposed this concept in four NJ cities but, frustratingly, did not receive any positive responses.

IUOE Local 825’s 61-acre training center is located at exit 8A on the NJ Turnpike.

IUOE Local 825’s 61-acre training center is located at exit 8A on the NJ Turnpike.

Q. Several commonly cited roadblocks to entry into the construction sector, particularly for women and minority candidates, include transportation issues and childcare. What strategies could help to address these issues?

Both transportation and childcare issues can be roadblocks to entry into the construction sector. One of the reasons we pursued the NJ PLACE 2.0 grant with a higher education partner was to open the door to Pell grants to underwrite transportation or childcare costs through existing grant funding opportunities that a traditional union apprenticeship would not be eligible. In the past year we received accreditation as a standalone licensed technical college to help us open the doors to more job candidates. As we pursue programs in higher education, we can now take advantage of not only NJ Department of Labor grants, but NJ Department of Education grants as well.

Q. Do you see a role for unions like IUOE in helping to reduce barriers for women, minorities, and others in entering the highway construction trades?

Recently, the Operating Engineers fought to have highway construction work be subject to project labor agreements (PLAs). When it was written twenty years ago, the original legislation exempted this field from these agreements. We retooled the legislation to include much more aggressive percentages of women and minorities required on projects and helped to secure its passage by the legislature. These percentages now apply to any construction project with a value of $5M or more. However, since the law was passed and signed by the Governor in April 2021, the State has not used a PLA on any project.

On-site heavy equipment operator training at IUOE Local 825’s training center.

On-site heavy equipment operator training at IUOE Local 825’s training center.

Participation numbers for female and minority employees on these publicly-funded highway projects are generally set on a county-by-county basis by NJDOT. One of the reasons we strongly support inclusion in PLA is because when our contractors secure a publicly-funded highway job, they often contact IUOE to request our assistance in reaching these goals. We respond affirmatively, but when we offer to help with this recruitment, follow-up from contractors is not forthcoming. The reason is that these participation numbers are goals, not mandates and it would be difficult to make them mandates.

There is a false perception that unions don’t have their doors open to all, and that there is not equity or diversity amongst the ranks. We actively recruit people from the non-union world. However, in the 21 years since I was hired by IUOE, we have only encountered two men of color and one woman working non-union jobs operating heavy equipment. There are few women and minorities working non-union operating equipment; it seems that there is not a real draw to this occupation. So the issue is broader than just the unions.

About five years ago, the number of paving projects in the State was increasing and we saw that our front line paving operators were aging. To address demand, we recruited 36 candidates to join a full-immersion paving training initiative. With paving shut down for the winter, we were able to hire and bring in seasoned major paving contractors as instructors during their off-season. The participants were instructed on one piece of paving equipment for 14-weeks until we knew they could run it proficiently. They were then absorbed by the paving industry for high-paying work during the summer and were brought back each winter over a five-year period to learn another piece of paving equipment. It’s not an apprenticeship program so we were not bound by apprentice rules, but we were able to train a diverse group. Of the 36, over one-third were minorities and women, and one-third were veterans. None of these people were associated with our union. In all, while the paving industry is unique, and our training school had the capacity to respond to this particular need, it represents an example of how thinking outside the box and proactively recruiting targeted groups can be very successful.

The IUOE Local 825 training facility occupies 61 acres where journeyworkers and apprentices can train on a large array of heavy equipment. https://www.iuoe825.org/home/training/

The IUOE Local 825 training facility occupies 61 acres where journeyworkers and apprentices can train on a large array of heavy equipment.

Q. We have heard that pre-apprenticeship programs are growing in popularity across the country. Are you aware of any pre-apprenticeship programs for the highway construction trades in NJ?

Pre-apprenticeship programs are not growing in the highway construction trades, but are happening in the building trades. I have concerns though with the pre-apprenticeship programs that I am aware of. For example, some pre-apprenticeship programs offer testing help that provide individuals with tutors to teach them how to pass the union apprenticeship written test. The percentage of these students who are actually admitted into the apprenticeship program does not appear to be that high however. Candidates are ranked by test score, so those that receive testing assistance might secure an interview, but they typically score lower in the written portion of the apprenticeship exam compared to their peers and thus do not advance. Overall, the competition for these positions is fierce.

The Earn & Learn program was funded by a NJ PLACE 2.0 grant through the NJ Department of Labor.

The Earn & Learn program was funded by a NJ PLACE 2.0 grant through the NJ Department of Labor.

IUOE Program with HCCC

Q. We know the Earn & Learn program orientation with Hudson County Community College was a few weeks ago [in January 2022]. How is program implementation going so far?

We understand that all 30 students are still enrolled and thriving. This cohort includes 10 minorities, 6 women, and 6 veterans so this is an opportunity to support diversity. For many of them, this is a continuation of their college education, and some are eager to pursue an occupation where they will earn $80-100,000 a year. The NJ PLACE 2.0 grant supports inclusion of a success coach to help keep the students on track, which is helpful. The students will be at our training center in May to begin traditional operating engineer training in the classroom and with equipment.

Q.Will all of your apprentices go through this program in the future, or are there multiple paths to a career in construction?

We have our own very competitive apprenticeship program with 160 people. There’s been a lot written about a skill gaps and a worker shortage. We want to develop a new apprenticeship model and have hired an academic who will begin working with us this spring to help develop some new apprenticeship tracks.

Students gain hands-on experience at IUOE Local 825’s NJ training center.

Students gain hands-on experience at IUOE Local 825’s NJ training center.

We have had a successful process for soliciting apprenticeship applicants in the last two traditional application cycles. There is a date and time when applications are available and the first 250 people in line receive one. The opportunity is posted on the Tuesday after Labor Day. We advertise in the paper and on social media. We have candidates lining up for a week ahead of time. For the Earn & Learn program with Hudson County Community College, the on-line application was opened and the portal had to be shut down in two hours due to the high response.

One gap we are eager to bridge is from the Vo-Tech programs to our apprenticeship program. Individuals have to be 18 years old and a high school graduate to enter an apprenticeship program, but some students are 17 when they graduate from Vo-Tech so we lose this cohort. We are trying to harmonize the end of Vo-Tech education with the beginning of an apprenticeship. Traditionally, our apprenticeship program begins in April. For the Earn & Learn program, we changed the start date to January to align with the academic calendar. Any changes to our apprenticeship programs must be approved by the federal government. Sometimes this process means that we can’t move as quickly as we would want.

People will tell me they can’t find workers, but we can get people; there is a lot of interest in our Operating Engineers apprenticeship program. Several of the other trade union apprenticeship programs are very competitive as well, including the Carpenters and the Ironworkers. The Carpenters union had an arrangement with East Brunswick Vo-Tech for direct entry to the union apprenticeship program for up to three students upon graduation from the carpentry program. The Vo-Tech sends students who are well-prepared and likely to succeed. I am trying to mirror that arrangement with Middlesex County Vo-Tech Career and Technical Education program.

Q. Do you see IUOE Local 825 collaborating with other institutions on similar programs in the future?

Absolutely and with multiple higher education partners and members of the business sector whom we have not yet identified. Hudson County Community College has a construction management program that offers 6-8 courses that build the “perfect operating engineer” and HCCC’s Lori Margolin and I are discussing how we could organize those courses together into a different type of degree program in the future. There are existing programs at other state education institutions that we have been considering as well. We might be able to take advantage of remote learning opportunities.

IUOE 825 will continue to look for opportunities to collaborate with HCCC and other higher education institutions.

IUOE 825 will continue to look for opportunities to collaborate with HCCC and other higher education institutions.

We are also very interested in the transportation-related activities at Rutgers-CAIT (Center for Advanced Infrastructure and Transportation) and testing on bridge work. Rowan University has ongoing asphalt research and recently visited the IUOE training center to see if they could use some of the area for asphalt testing and of course we would support that.

Every year, we have a full-immersion asphalt paving class. A major manufacturer of paving equipment has been visiting our site in the past week teaching our journeyworkers and apprentices about the latest technology on their equipment. We have the equipment dealer with the product support staff and mechanics participate and share the service bulletins and the new information. And the dealers get the word out to members of the broader construction community who can attend these events.

These are ways we will continue to collaborate with the educational world and the business world in the future. We can leverage our 8,000 members, 1,400 employers, 120 pieces of heavy equipment, and 61 acres in New Jersey and 51 acres in the Hudson Valley. We have the laboratory and want to establish synergies and diverse partnerships to support the industry.

As the burgeoning field of automation and robotics for heavy equipment grows, I sit on an IUOE International subcommittee where we are discussing the skill sets and training needed to prepare an individual to be a successful remote equipment operator or REO. We can work with the computer engineers to let them know what aspects of heavy equipment operation may not be transferable to computers and what alternatives there might be to support their efforts.

Looking Ahead

Q. What strategies should be pursued to encourage more New Jerseyans to consider a career in the construction industry? Who should be leading or involved in those efforts?

A key reason why our organization migrated toward the higher education piece is because we believe that we will secure a more diverse population of job candidates by doing so. Specifically, offering an avenue to earn an Associate’s degree is helping to increase awareness for construction and operating engineer careers.

Students in Somerset County’s MEAM program participated in an Operating Engineer Awareness program and IUOE’s training facility.

Students in Somerset County’s MEAM program participated in an Operating Engineer Awareness program and IUOE’s training facility.

Moving forward, our long-term goal is to implement more of a college application process rather than continue the traditional apprentice application process.  We are also seeking partnerships with the Vo-Tech system since most of the traditional high schools do not have programs that align as well with our goals and needs.

I am on the Board of Somerset County Vo-Tech and my daughter is a guidance counselor at Middlesex County Vo-Tech so we know the system fairly well. We wanted to provide students from Somerset’s Mechatronics, Engineering and Advanced Manufacturing program (MEAM) an opportunity to learn about IUOE and visit our campus. In academic parlance, our program fits in the Advanced Manufacturing sector. I worked with the superintendent to secure a small grant for an Operating Engineer Awareness program at Somerset. We developed a curriculum to introduce the students interested in construction to the occupation of construction engineer, and transported the students to our campus to see and experience the equipment. We are also helping the district with OSHA training, and with welding, and are seeking other opportunities to work together. Ocean and Hunterdon Counties have Equipment Operator programs that are simulator-based but we have not yet received a lot of interest from them in working with us. East Brunswick Vo-Tech is very close to our campus and we have students visit from there as well.

Q. Through their on-the-job training and supportive services program, NJDOT is exploring ways to work with contractors, contracting associations, and unions on shaping their future workforces, by focusing on training and recruitment programs aimed at women, minorities, and others. Do you have any thoughts about how NJDOT might pursue this goal?

NJDOT should consider implementing several model project labor agreements, collaborating with the different trades, with all participants making a concerted effort to increase the number of women and minorities on a project. The outcome of this effort could be presented as a showcase and best practice example statewide. It is important to recognize that when we set the hiring goals to include a certain percentage of women and minorities, we have to plan to engage in a collaborative effort with the successful bidding contractor to reach those goals. Rather than penalize a contractor if they experience challenges in achieving the diversity goals, we need to determine strategies for how to reach them and secure their buy-in to reach these diversity goals.

NJ STIC 1st Quarter 2022 Meeting

The NJ State Transportation Innovation Council (NJ STIC) convened online for the 1st Quarter Meeting on March 16, 2022. The STIC Meeting Agenda had been distributed to the invitees prior to the meeting. Participants could use the chat feature to offer comments or ask questions of the speakers during the online meeting.

Amanda Gendek, Manager of the NJDOT Bureau of Research greeted the meeting participants, followed by Andy Swords, Director, Division of Statewide Planning, who provided the Welcome and Opening Remarks.

Ms. Gendek then introduced Brandee Chapman who has recently been hired as the NJDOT Innovation Coordinator. Ms. Gendek noted the importance of dedicated innovation staff and thanked NJDOT administration for supporting this position. Ms. Chapman will eventually become the NJ STIC Coordinator and NJDOT’s Innovation Subject Matter Expert and will support the Bureau of Research in becoming a hub of innovation.

FHWA EDC Innovations Update. Helene Roberts, Innovation Coordinator and Performance Manager for the FHWA NJ Office, reported on the status of progress on EDC initiatives. She thanked the CIA Team Leaders and SMEs for their progress report and efforts. She noted that there are only nine months left in the two-year EDC-6 cycle and observed that there may be more progress being made than has been reported.

Ms. Roberts and Ms. Gendek made a call for Every Day Counts Round 7 ideas with a focus on Safety, Equity, and Sustainable and Resilient Infrastructure.  The deadline for submitting suggestions for Round 7 innovations is April 11, 2022. Ms. Roberts explained that FHWA is looking for innovations that are "market-ready" — that is, they have been proven in deployment but are currently underutilized among the states.  Through an extensive vetting process, FHWA will pare down the list from the call for ideas to approximately 10 innovations. Ms. Gendek added that if you have an innovation that requires a little more research to be ready for implementation, please send the idea to her at NJDOT Bureau of Research.

Ms. Roberts and Ms. Gendek engaged the NJ STIC meeting attendees with an Interactive exercise. Click for results.

Ms. Roberts and Ms. Gendek reminded everyone that New Jersey will be a featured state at the next National STIC meeting on June 1, 2022 at 2.00 PM.  They asked those in attendance to pull out their cell phones and participate in an interactive exercise seeking suggestions on possible topics and innovative initiatives that NJ should highlight during the national meeting.

Core Innovation Area (CIA) Updates. The meeting continued with presentations from Core Innovative Area (CIA) leaders who provided updates of the status of the prioritized EDC initiatives on the topics of Safety, Infrastructure Preservation, Mobility and Operations, and Organizational Improvement and Support.

Featured Presentation #1 — Commercial Vehicle Alerts.  The first featured presentation described an initiative to proactively deploy New Jersey Commercial Vehicle Alerts to improve safety and traffic incident management. Sal Cowan, NJDOT Senior Director, Transportation Mobility, was joined by Amy Lopez, Director, Public Sector Services and Smart City Strategy for INRIX, and Marc Nichols, Director, Government & Industry Partnerships for Drivewyze. Mr. Cowan set the stage for their joint presentation by explaining that Drivewyze is the provider of North America’s largest weigh station by-pass system, Drivewyze Pre-Clear.  INRIX provides real-time traffic data and analytics and has been a long-standing data partner with NJDOT.

Mr. Cowan provided an overview of the project and discussed the web-based Drivewyze dashboard.

In laying out the rationale for the deployment of commercial vehicle alerts, Mr. Cowan noted that NJDOT, NJ Turnpike Authority, and South Jersey Turnpike Authority are working together to provide commercial drivers with slow-down and congestion alerts to help them react before they are caught in congested and/or hazardous conditions. He highlighted the roadways covered by the subject deployment and reminded attendees of the importance of having a safe and reliable goods movement sector to the state's economy and to satisfying our growing expectations as consumers.

Ms. Lopez described the INRIX system and its ability to deliver real-time data that detects and describes sudden slowdowns, closures, and queues by location for specific events. Drivewyze takes this data and communicates it to commercial truck drivers. The system works with severity thresholds and trigger warnings so only events that exceed these thresholds are reported. Commercial drivers receive the messages through the electronic logging device (ELD) in their cab. The reported information can be customized to include notification of specific weather events.

Mr. Cowan presented an example of the web-based dashboard that NJDOT can monitor when Drivewyze sends out a commercial vehicle traffic alert. The alert platform provides information on congestion and sudden slow-downs by road, time of day, and incident duration and indicates the number of alerts and vehicles alerted in NJ.

Mr. Cowan and Ms. Lopez also touched on the deployment timeline from planning to implementation, data interpretation challenges, and anticipated next-step applications for integration of the commercial vehicle alert data.

Mr. Nichols discussed how the Drivewyze alert system worked in practice.

Mr. Nichols then detailed how the alert system worked in practice, highlighting a specific use case, the Winter Storm Kenan in late January 2022.  He explained that Drivewyze set up a geofence and as drivers crossed that line, they were notified of road conditions so that drivers could find a location to stop and wait out the storm. Notably, NJDOT requested that emergency alerts be sent to commercial drivers along portions of the east coast. In coordination with the Eastern Transportation Coalition, Drivewyze sent alerts to 11 other states for northbound traffic and reached an estimated 4,800 drivers. This system was also used to inform drivers of open rest areas during the pandemic.  Mr. Nichols explained how the collaboration between NJDOT, INRIX and Drivewyze was able to effectively inform commercial truck drivers and change their behavior during a severe weather event.

Featured Presentation #2 — Trenton Moves: Autonomous Vehicle-Based Urban Transit System Project.  The next presentation was made by Andrew Tunnard, NJDOT Asst. Commissioner, Operations Systems and Support, who spoke about Trenton Moves — Mobility & Opportunity: Vehicles Equity System. Mr. Tunnard described the fundamental importance in planning transportation systems and services of considering all kinds of people when thinking about mobility. He introduced the "Trenton Moves" project, which will seek to identify and address the transportation needs of the carless, and those who are unable to drive due to physical limitations. Trenton has approximately 90,000 residents, and over 70 percent have one or fewer cars.

Mr. Tunnard provided an overview of the Trenton Moves project, highlighting the project's aims and processes needed to bring it to fruition.

Mr. Tunnard explained that NJDOT is collaborating with the Governor’s Office, Princeton University (Prof. Alain Kornhauser and students), Mercer County, and the City of Trenton to deploy a safe, equitable, affordable, sustainable, on-demand transportation system. As envisioned, the system is expected to comprise 100 autonomous, electric shuttle vehicles and 50 kiosks. The initiative is in the concept phase and the hope is to have people riding the vehicles by early 2024. Steps in the implementation process include: creating a vision in the neighborhoods and communities and building support at the local level for the use of this technology; enticing tech companies to come work with NJDOT in a public-private partnership (PPP) to bring the technology to implementation; and up-front infrastructure funding. Although these vehicles will travel on existing infrastructure, improvements to road markings, curbs, intersections, and signage will be needed, in addition to construction of a maintenance garage and operations center and the 50 kiosks.

Mr. Tunnard touched on some of the potential operational design domain (ODD) phasing, service and pricing plan considerations that must be tackled to fully test and pilot the shuttle system.  Beyond the practical challenges, Mr. Tunnard invited those in attendance to envision how the transit system might deliver needed last-mile services from the Trenton train station to government offices, among other destinations, and improve mobility and accessibility in Trenton for its residents.

The City of Trenton received a local transportation planning grant of $5M from NJDOT to support the start-up and deployment of Trenton Moves.  Once the project is established, the intent is to expand the project to surrounding communities and eventually throughout New Jersey.

Reminders and Updates. Ms. Gendek closed the meeting with information and reminders on the online location of several resources that highlight the NJ STIC and other innovation topics funded through research and technology transfer activities, including:

She noted that STIC Incentive Program funding is available. The program provides up to $100,000 per state. Applications are due by August 2022. The NJDOT Bureau of Research has developed a set of guidelines for project administration for selected projects.

She also reminded everyone that the entry deadline for the 2022 Build A Better Mousetrap Competition is May 1st.  She encouraged attendees to spread the word about the competition among their colleagues.   An NJLTAP Webinar, Innovating at the Local Public Works Level: Can You Build a Better Mousetrap? will be held on March 23, 2022 from 1:00pm – 2:00pm for those who would like more information.

A recording of the NJ STIC March 2022 Meeting can be found here.

The Meeting Presentations can be found in its entirety here and in the section below.

NJ STIC March 2022 Meeting Recording

Welcome Remarks

Slide image reading: FHWA Updates, Helene Roberts, P.E., Innovation Coordinator & Performance Manager, FHWA, NJ Division OfficeFHWA EDC Innovation Updates

Slide image reading: CIA Team Safety NJDOT - Dan LiSanti, FHWA - Keith SkiltonCIA Team Update: Safety

CIA Team Update: Infrastructure Preservation

CIA Team Update: Organizational Improvement and Support

Slide image reading CIA Team Mobility & Ops NJDOT - Sue Catlett, FHWA - Ek PhomsavathCIA Team Update: Mobility and Operations

Feature Presentation: New Jersey Commercial Vehicle Alerts

Feature Presentation: Trenton Moves: Autonomous Vehicle-Based Urban Transit System Project

Slide image reading: Reminders & Announcements, NJDOT Tech Transfer Website (www.njdottechtransfer.net), NJ STIC Website (www.njdottechtransfer.net/nj-stic/), and all meeting recordings, presentations, and summary are posted: njdottechtransfer.net/nj-stic-meetingsReminders, Announcements, and Thank You

Exploring Strategic Workforce Development: An Interview with the Office of Apprenticeship, NJ Department of Labor and Workforce Development (NJDOL)

FHWA is promoting Strategic Workforce Development in highway maintenance, construction and operations.

FHWA is promoting Strategic Workforce Development in highway maintenance, construction and operations.

Strategic Workforce Development, an FHWA Every Day Counts (EDC) Round 6 innovative initiative, anticipates collaboration between government agencies, trade organizations, private agencies and communities to prepare individuals for the construction workforce. The demand for workers in highway maintenance, construction and operations is growing, as is the demand for new skill sets required for  work with emerging technologies. An important element of this initiative is the recruitment and retention of women and minorities in the construction sector.  Through on-the-job training and supportive services program, NJDOT is exploring ways to work with contractors, contracting associations, and unions on shaping their future workforces, including programs aimed at increasing representation of women, minorities, and other disadvantaged populations in the construction and operations workforce.

We spoke with Nick Toth, Director, New Jersey Office of Apprenticeship, NJ Department of Labor and Workforce Development (NJDOL) to learn about the State’s role in funding, promoting, and providing technical assistance for on-the-job training programs, and pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship programs, to support all workers including women, minorities and other disadvantaged individuals seeking to enter highway construction and other related fields.

Background

Q.  Can you tell us a little bit about your role in the Office of Apprenticeship at the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development?

NJ DOL provides funding for apprenticeship and other training programs.

NJDOL has six grant programs to promote workforce development in the State.

I am the director of the New Jersey Office of Apprenticeship in the Department of Labor and Workforce Development. I was hired into this position to develop the first Office of Apprenticeship. In 2018, Governor Murphy announced the New Jersey Apprenticeship Network to invest in pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship programs throughout the state. We developed a host of grant programs and have grown from a staff of one to twelve people. We currently oversee six grants, including two grant programs for the New Jersey Builders Utilization for Labor Diversity (NJ Build) Program that came under our umbrella in the past year. We provide $10-15 million in grants each year focused on supporting pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship programs in varying employment sectors. The key tenet of our work is to build a stronger and fairer economy with greater equity, inclusion and diversity among participants. We also focus on removing the economic barriers that inhibit access to training.

Q. Our understanding is that NJDOL supports apprenticeship initiatives via grants but that the USDOL manages apprenticeship programs in the state. Is that accurate?

New Jersey operates as a federal state, with NJDOL providing technical assistance, funding, and marketing to support pre-apprenticeships and apprenticeships. However, the U.S. Department of Labor (USDOL) is the registrar for NJ apprenticeship programs. There is no registration process for pre-apprenticeship programs. We work closely with USDOL and we have an employer engagement unit that works closely with NJ employers.

Seal of the United States Department of Labor

The USDOL is the registrar for NJ apprenticeship programs.

Q. What is the difference between the NJDOL Office of Apprenticeship and the New Jersey Apprenticeship Network?

The New Jersey Apprenticeship Network is a broad initiative focused on building partnerships and developing relationships to provide employment opportunities for New Jerseyans in a wide array of sectors. The Apprenticeship Office is part of the Network. We partner with employers, whether they are grantees or not, and we partner with other organizations.

Q. NJDOT is focused on recruiting and retaining workers in the highway construction industry. Based on your experience, is there a lack of awareness – especially among women and minority persons – for jobs and careers in the highway construction industry?   If so, do you know of programs that are building awareness for opportunities in transportation?

In general, there is a lack of awareness of what apprenticeships are and the opportunities available to workers. There is also a communication gap, both statewide and nationwide, related to the skilled trades. There is no solid messaging or awareness about the economic benefits of pursuing a trade or following a non-college path. I have not seen a concerted public awareness effort directed to women and minorities. But there’s a real economic argument to be made for apprenticeship programs. If you go through a structured apprenticeship program, you will experience hands-on training and receive a paycheck throughout the program. Some of these programs are four years and you will exit without any student loans. It is vital to better communicate and increase awareness among employers and prospective employees that apprenticeships are very different from internships.

Q. Several commonly cited roadblocks to entry into the construction sector, particularly for women and minority candidates, include transportation issues and childcare.   What strategies could help to address these issues?

I can confirm that transportation and childcare are the two most common barriers that are at the front of the discussion. For most of our grants, including the GAINS, PACE, and NJ PLACE 2.0 grants, budgeting for supportive services includes transportation and childcare as permissible uses of funds. Where our Office has leverage is in how we prescribe the way state funds can be used; we try to incentivize applicants to include this support for program participants as part of their application.

Q. Does your Office play a role in helping to reduce barriers for women, minorities, and others in entering the highway construction trades?  Also, we saw on your website that NJDOL has posted a notice of grant opportunity (January 31, 2022) called, “Women and minority groups in construction trades program.” Can you please tell us about this grant opportunity?

NJ Build Program grants are available to contractors in the construction and building trades and provide access to women and minorities to training.

NJ Build Program grants are available to contractors in the construction and building trades and provide access to women and minorities to training.

This grant opportunity is a NJ BUILD Program effort that has been available for a decade. Unfortunately, we receive low response rates to these grants which seem to be “the best kept workforce development secret,” as it can be difficult to get the word out to contractors and construction companies that are open to diversifying their workforce.

Any state agency can also apply for this grant and it is specifically written to provide access for women and minorities to apprenticeships or pre-apprenticeship training. The NJ BUILD grants are limited to the construction and building trades because of the way they are funded. By statute, a fee is assessed on public works contracts with a value above $1 million and these funds must be used for training of women and minorities in the field that is paying into that fund.

Q. We have heard that pre-apprenticeship programs are growing in popularity across the country and that NJ has the Pre-Apprenticeship in Education (PACE) program. Can you tell us about PACE and if the program focuses at all on highway construction trades in NJ?  

What are essential elements of a pre-apprenticeship program to help women, minorities, and others enter an apprenticeship program?  Are there programs that offer a direct connection between pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship programs?

With all our apprenticeship grants – everything outside of NJ BUILD – there is no specific focus on highway construction, but highway construction would fall under the heading of infrastructure. We would love to fund a workforce development program for those jobs, considering the federal dollars that will be coming to the state from the new federal infrastructure bill.

It is important to link pre-apprenticeship programs with apprenticeship programs so you don’t lose people between these programs. For example, in order to be eligible for a PACE grant – which is focused on high growth sectors including infrastructure – you have to have one established partnership with a registered apprenticeship program. We provide placement metric requirements to track how many pre-apprenticeship participants move to the apprenticeship program. But we also offer two other “off-ramps,” since sometimes not all participants will be able to move on to the apprenticeship, for example, if you have trained 50 people but your partner can only take 15 into their program. If participants go on to a job, a post-secondary program or career training program at a higher level, we count that as a good outcome as well.

Q. Are you aware of any model practices currently among community-based organizations to support women, minority, and others looking at the construction trades?

I use healthcare as an example. We have made significant headway in the number of women participating in registered healthcare apprenticeships, which has doubled from 6 percent to 12 percent. Some programs are over 90 percent women, with many minority participants.

Preparing students for jobs in the skilled trades is a good strategy to provide employment opportunities for all.

Preparing students for jobs in the skilled trades is a good strategy to provide employment opportunities for all.

Generally, there is less interest among job seekers in the building trades. Thirty years ago, pursuing a career in construction would have been considered on par with going to college, but we have changed a lot as a country.

From a union perspective, it would be great to see a more concerted effort to diversify union membership. But I understand that when you target economically depressed communities, there are existing barriers that inhibit people from applying. The unions need a qualified applicant pool. So, focusing on pre-apprenticeships and apprenticeships as a pipeline into the sector and building awareness among young adults in high school for careers in trade are valuable strategies. In addition, raising awareness for career opportunities in construction overall and to targeted audiences is also needed. High schools are not preparing students for jobs in the trades, but rather emphasize college placement, so there are structural issues contributing to the problem.

NJDOL Grant Initiatives

The Earn & Learn collaboration between HCCC and IUOE Local 825 is funded through a NJ Place 2.0 grant.

The Earn & Learn collaboration between HCCC and IUOE Local 825 is funded through a NJ Place 2.0 grant.

Q. The "Earn and Learn" program developed between the International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) Local 825 and Hudson County Community College (HCCC) is supported with a NJ PLACE 2.0 Degree Apprenticeship Program grant. Our understanding of this innovative program is that its aim is to integrate work-based learning with post-secondary education, allowing apprentices to earn college credits and an apprentice wage simultaneously.  Are both four-year and community colleges participating in this program?   Can grantees apply for continuing funding after their initial award is spent?

The genius of the NJ PLACE 2.0 grant program is that participants simultaneously earn course credit and a paycheck via this grant that incentivizes four-year and community colleges to collaborate with organizations that have a registered apprenticeship program. Participants pursue an Associate’s degree while being paid for on-the-job training.

If a grantee’s program is doing well, they could be eligible for additional funding. Ultimately, the goal of the Office is to distribute these grant dollars to applicants with promising initiatives designed to integrate work-based learning with post-secondary education.

Q. Another initiative that your Office oversees is the GAINS, or Growing Apprenticeships in Nontraditional Sectors, program. Our understanding is that GAINS is focused on training youth, adults, and incumbent workers by developing apprenticeship programs in a wide variety of in-demand fields. Is that accurate?  For how long have you been distributing these grants?

The GAINS program focuses on in-demand fields and the hiring of women, minorities, and other underrepresented groups.

The GAINS program focuses on in-demand fields and the hiring of women, minorities, and other underrepresented groups.

GAINS is our flagship grant program and the first one I worked on when I came into this job. As noted, it is focused on developing apprenticeship programs in fields that are in demand. We are in our fourth program year for this annual grant. We will soon announce a $3 million funding round and will probably have another round later in the fiscal year. We have had a good uptake in the program. This round we will fund apprenticeships in nursing residency, wastewater treatment, massage therapy, electrical, cybersecurity, and for machinists, home health aides, computer systems analysts, and ironworkers. We encourage all of our applicants to hire from diverse groups and our application evaluation criteria are based on inclusion of people of color, people with disabilities, women and veterans.

Q. How do you ensure compliance with these inclusion goals?

Registered apprenticeships are tracked through a national database. We require monthly reports from our grantees. The staff in the contracting unit validate the level of service.

Looking Ahead

Q. What strategies should be pursued to encourage more New Jerseyans to consider a career in the highway construction industry? Who should be leading or involved in those efforts?

Implementation of awareness campaigns, job fairs, rapid interviews, and events to learn about these careers can be effective. If NJDOT has openings, they can let NJDOL know. We can then reach out to the local One-Stops to request they send out an email blast statewide or to a particular geographic region alerting folks of these DOT job opportunities. We have done this for our grantees. If NJDOT has job openings, they can also advertise through the One-Stop Centers, and share eligibility requirements.

NJDOT should also engage in conversations with the contractors who are seeking workers for NJDOT contracts. The state has leverage in the contract requirements when contractors receive state dollars. Under a new law, which has been in effect the last two years, every contractor that has a public works certification, must participate in a registered apprenticeship program. In their procurement language, NJDOT can require the contractor to train their workers, or develop apprenticeships to pipeline people in, or partner with their local One-Stops, or include a local hire provision. Including these requirements can drive positive behavior among employers that can help to diversify the workforce.

Q. Through their on-the-job training and supportive services program, NJDOT is exploring ways to work with contractors, contracting associations, and unions on shaping their future workforces, by focusing on training and recruitment programs aimed at women, minorities, and others. Do you have any thoughts about how NJDOT might pursue this goal?  How could NJDOT partner more closely with your Office?

We had productive conversations with NJDOT when I came on the job, and I discussed our apprenticeship grants with them. NJ BUILD was not in my purview at the time. Our NJ BUILD programs are tailor-made for NJDOT. Philosophically, our two departments are aligned in wanting to accomplish the goal of having a more diverse workforce. NJDOT should definitely consider applying for some of our available grants as they are eligible to do so and we can cover some of the operational costs associated with the grants in some cases, including staffing costs. There’s a lot of opportunity there and it could be a win-win for NJDOT.

"Our programs are tailor-made for NJDOT. Philosophically, our two departments are aligned in wanting to accomplish the goal of having a more diverse workforce."

My team and I love to get in front of groups of NJ employers to discuss our grant opportunities. We have lots of mutual goals for increasing successful job recruitment and the diversity of the labor supply, none of which can occur without conversations with the employers. I’d be happy to spend time discussing NJ BUILD opportunities with construction companies that are already contributing to the state through the public works contract fee and with NJDOT, to share how our Office can support the training and upscaling of their workforce.

 


Resources

Federal Highway Administration, Every Day Counts Round 6, Strategic Workforce Development. https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/innovation/everydaycounts/edc_6/strategic_workforce_development.cfm

Hudson County Community College, Workforce Development. https://www.hccc.edu/programs-courses/workforce-development/index.html

International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 825. Earn and Learn Program. http://www.iuoe825.org/

NJ Department of Labor and Workforce Development, NJ PLACE 2.0 Grants. https://www.nj.gov/labor/lwdhome/press/2020/20200131_njplace.shtml

NJ Department of Labor and Workforce Development, Office of Apprenticeships. https://www.nj.gov/labor/career-services/apprenticeship/

NJ Department of Labor and Workforce Development, NJ Builders Utilization for Labor Diversity (NJBUILD),  Women and Minority Groups in Construction Trades.  Notice of Grant Opportunity, Fiscal Year 2022

Engaging Youth in Transportation Planning – NJ MPO Efforts Featured

FHWA promotes virtual public involvement and innovative public engagement strategies through its Every Day Counts (EDC-6) innovations. The FHWA's EDC Newsletter of March 3, 2022 featured the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority's creative efforts to engage youth in the transportation planning process in the development of the MPO's Long Range Plan that were conducted in partnership with the Rutgers University's Public Engagement and Outreach Team (POET).  Below is a reprint of the newsletter article that recognizes these efforts as its Virtual Public Involvement (VPI) Innovation of the Month.

Because engaging youth in the transportation planning process is notoriously difficult, the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority (NJTPA) used a broad range of engagement tools when developing its long-range transportation plan, Plan 2050. They held focus groups with traditionally underserved demographic groups, created a young adult advisory group, and held online meetings to engage broad audiences. NJTPA also held an innovative online contest for children ages 5 - 15, the OnAir Future of Transportation contest, which allowed children to be creative, while also participating in the planning process.

The NJTPA promoted the contest through its email and social media channels. It also partnered with the Rutgers University Public Outreach and Engagement Team to promote the contest with community-based organizations, elementary and middle school teachers, community websites that promote children’s activities, and programs for youth with disabilities.

 

Left: One of the winning submissions from the OnAir Future of Transportation contest. Right: OnAir Future of Transportation honorable mention winner. (Credit: NJTPA)

Participants submitted drawings, animated videos, poems, short stories, and more, describing their visions for transportation in 2050. Responses were collected via email, physical mail, and voicemail. Entries were divided by age groups, with winners selected in each group.

Contest submissions included some highly futuristic visions of flying cars, hover chairs, and teleportation, which the NJTPA considered to be a bit out of reach for its 2050 planning timeframe. However, several themes emerged in the contest submissions that mirrored public input from adults. Contest submissions showed that kids have a desire for faster, more reliable transportation options that are comfortable and convenient, and a future that uses technology to make life easier, safer, more equitable, sustainable, and fun.

Recommendations for autonomous vehicles, micromobility, and sustainability were incorporated into Plan 2050 based on the adults’ and children’s input. The On Air Future of Transportation contest raised awareness of the NJTPA and their work, especially to parents, teachers, and other adults involved in outreach, and provides an innovative example of using virtual public involvement (VPI) techniques to engage a difficult-to-reach segment of the population.

To learn more about VPI and other innovative examples of its use, please contact Lana Lau, FHWA Office of Project Development & Environmental Review, or Jill Stark, FHWA Office of Planning, Stewardship & Oversight.

 

 

 

Exploring Strategic Workforce Development in NJ: An Interview with Hudson County Community College

FHWA is promoting Strategic Workforce Development in highway maintenance, construction and operations.

FHWA is promoting Strategic Workforce Development in highway maintenance, construction and operations.

Strategic Workforce Development, an FHWA Every Day Counts (EDC) Round 6 innovative initiative, anticipates collaboration between government agencies, trade organizations, private agencies and communities to prepare individuals for the construction workforce. The demand for workers in highway maintenance, construction and operations is growing, as is the demand for new skill sets required for work with emerging technologies. An important element of this initiative is the recruitment and retention of women and minorities in the construction sector.  Through on-the-job training and supportive services program, NJDOT is exploring ways to work with contractors, contracting associations, and unions on shaping their future workforces, including programs aimed at increasing representation of women, minorities, and other disadvantaged populations in the construction and operations workforce. 

We spoke with Lori Margolin, the Associate Vice President for Continuing Education and Workforce Development at Hudson County Community College (HCCC) for her insights on workforce development and a new partnership between HCCC and the International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) Local 825 that addresses the need to train individuals for today’s jobs in highway construction and operations.

 

Community Colleges, Programs and Partners

Q.  Can you tell us about your role with the college?

HCCC Continuing Education and Workforce Development works with employers to provide training to meet their needs

HCCC Continuing Education and Workforce Development works with employers to provide training to meet their needs

I am the Associate Vice President for Continuing Education and Workforce Development at Hudson County Community College (HCCC). My department oversees all non-credit programs at the College. We provide educational programs in a wide variety of areas for community residents, training for unemployed and underemployed job seekers, and work directly with employers to provide basic skills and customized training to incumbent workers. We have partnerships with many diverse organizations and take an “entrepreneurial approach” to developing programs and partnerships which provide an alternate  pathway for students to obtain credentials and enter a degree program.

Q.  Before we delve into your new International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) Local 825 program, please tell us, based on your experiences, if there is a lack of awareness among your student body – especially among women and minority students – for jobs/careers in the highway construction industry?

In general, students often lack awareness of careers in many sectors. I have no specific data to cite in highway construction however I am sure it holds true in this industry. Young people and prospective job seekers are not aware of the full-range of available opportunities and/or have false perceptions about jobs in these sectors. For example, they may erroneously assume no post-secondary degree or certification is needed or that they will work in a “dusty workshop” – neither of which may be true.

The construction industry is known, historically, as a white male-dominated industry that many do not associate as a sector offering opportunities for persons seeking a post-secondary degree; however, increasingly construction and heavy manufacturing are more automated and need workers with advanced technology skills. The IUOE Local 825 is a union that recognizes this need for workers who are vested with skills to work with new technologies.

For women, minorities, and people with disabilities to be attracted to and successfully retain positions in these fields, both role models and a welcoming work environment are vital. The industry has to examine its policies and practices from top to bottom to address issues of diversity.

Q.  Do you know of programs either at HCCC or elsewhere that are building awareness of career opportunities in the highway construction sector?

HCCC offers an Associate degree in Applied Science in Construction Management, which is part of our STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) division. The program has experienced double-digit enrollment growth due to factors including the recent November 2021 passage of the federal Infrastructure bill. Rowan University offers a Bachelor’s degree in Construction Management and there may be others.

NJ Pathways provides individuals with career opportunities and industry with a trained workforce

HCCC and Rowan College of South Jersey will be leading the Construction Center for Workforce Innovation as part of the NJ Pathways to Career Opportunities program, which is a joint initiative of the NJ Community College Consortium for Workforce and Economic Development and the NJ Business and Industry Association. We are looking at expanding the pathways in construction, creating new partnerships with K-12 and 4-year colleges and universities, and expanding the dual education program to include additional partners. Whatever new curricula are developed via the initiative will be shared statewide.

Q.  Several commonly cited roadblocks to entry into the construction sector particularly for women and minority candidates include transportation issues and childcare. Have your students encountered these or other obstacles? Do you see a role for NJ community colleges in helping to reduce barriers for women and minorities in entering the highway construction trades?

Both transportation and childcare are obstacles to entry and retention in construction and other sectors. For example, if a person’s vehicle is not reliable, how are they going to access the job site? For some job seekers, the costs of child care can be a large proportion of their income.

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has created additional challenges, as some job seekers are concerned with taking a job where they may be exposed to the virus and bring it home to older or immune-compromised family members. In some cases, prospective workers must care for family members impacted by COVID-19 and balance demands related to their children’s home school instruction. The number of female employees in many sectors has decreased since the onset of the pandemic because many of these familial responsibilities fall to women. Overall, these constraints are influencing the types of jobs candidates are pursuing.

I see a role for community colleges in helping to reduce barriers for women and minorities in entering highway construction and other sectors. Community colleges serve students from highly diverse backgrounds who bring a variety of experiences to their classes. Community colleges serve more first-generation, part-time, nontraditional age, low-income, minority, and female students than any other type of public higher education institution.  We focus on economic mobility and preparing students to launch successful careers and earn family-sustaining wages.

The pandemic has exacerbated issues that students and job seekers face, such as childcare and transportation. Many HCCC students have non-academic needs including food insecurity and face emergencies, such as car repair, that are beyond their financial means to resolve independently. To help address these issues, HCCC has expanded student supports, as the college considers itself part of the community it serves. The Hudson Helps program provides a food pantry, emergency grants, and has paid almost $5 million in outstanding debts for students during the pandemic.

While these issues are long-standing, if the community works together I believe we can effectively address them.

Q.   Your department partners closely with the business community, offering a variety of programs and resources to help meet their workforce needs. Do you also partner with any community-based organizations to support any of your apprenticeship or other programs? If yes, do any of these organizations specifically focus on supporting women and minorities in the workforc

There are many community-based organizations and programs that support students in preparing for careers. Several of our partners in Hudson County are Women Rising, the Statewide Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey and Year Up. Year Up primarily works with minority and low-income students to introduce them to careers in business, finance, and technology, and they have an office on our campus. We partner with many others as well.

International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) Program

Q.  With HCCC as a registered apprenticeship sponsor with USDOL, do you have apprenticeship programs in place focused on advanced manufacturing, healthcare and -- now with the IUOE Program -- operating engineering?

NJ DOL provides funding for apprenticeship and other training programs.

HCCC is a Registered Apprenticeship sponsor and currently has an advanced manufacturing employer, Eastern Millwork, and one hospitality employer, Skopos Hospitality. In addition we have agreements with many healthcare providers to train apprentices. We are a partner on an application for a culinary Pre-Apprenticeship in Career Education (PACE) training grants through the NJ Department of Labor and Workforce Development (NJDOL).

Many employers are hesitant to pursue apprenticeships because they do not understand what an apprenticeship entails, and the benefits that an apprenticeship could offer to both employers and participants. In fact, many confuse internships with apprenticeships, with one distinction among the two being that apprenticeship participants are hired as employees, although there are other differences as well.

We have an agreement with the International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) Local 825 to articulate up to 30 credits towards an Associate degree (60 credits).  Apprentices with IUOE Local 825 can pursue an Associate degree while completing the apprenticeship program.

Q.   Can you please outline the basics of the International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) program?

HCCC and the IUOE are training workers for the construction industry, including highway construction.

The IUOE program is technically an advanced manufacturing initiative that is supported by a NJ PLACE 2.0 grant. This innovative program was established in November 2021 through an articulation agreement between HCCC and IUOE Local 825 and gives students the opportunity to be dually enrolled in the union apprenticeship program and HCCC, where they will earn an Associate of Applied Science in Technical Studies degree after they complete 60 credits.

Participants will earn 30 credits from on-the-job training and education provided by the union, and are scheduled to earn the other 30 credits from HCCC over five semesters. They will be attending part-time, taking two classes per semester and earning six credits per semester on average.

Q, What are the main goals for the IUOE program?

The main goals for the NJ PLACE 2.0 grant are promoting equality of opportunity, upward economic mobility, and economic fairness.

Q.  What makes the IUOE program particularly innovative?

The program is innovative and beneficial because it provides students with the unique, time-saving opportunity to pursue their journeyworker status simultaneously with earning their Associate degree. The program is designed so that students earn credit for experience outside the classroom, and college classes enhance what they are learning at work. There are no out of pocket expenses for the students since costs are covered by the grant and IUOE Local 825.

The IUOE has named the hybrid apprentice program “Earn and Learn”

The degree will  give students additional options and pathways.  Future operators will need to master heavy equipment and also understand and work with the technology behind it.

Q.  How is program implementation going so far? Approximately how many students are currently enrolled?

The program will start in the spring 2022 semester on January 21, 2022. Thirty students of diverse backgrounds from throughout the state were accepted for enrollment. The students had to commit to both components of the program, earning the Associate degree and to the apprenticeship program. Hundreds of prospective applicants applied in the first 20 minutes that the online application portal opened.

All HCCC instruction is virtual, although the orientation was held in-person on-campus. The virtual modality allows students who reside throughout the state to easily attend. The IUOE Local 825 members are trained in real-world facilities on the latest models of equipment, including those with the newest technology and GPS systems. The state-of-the-art training facility located in central New Jersey near Exit 8A of the NJ Turnpike, has a total area of nearly 60 acres, with more than 90 pieces of equipment, simulators and instrumentation.

IUOE members are trained in central NJ to work with heavy machinery on construction sites

IUOE members are trained in central NJ to work with heavy machinery on construction sites

Q.  What career paths and industries will program graduates typically pursue? Are construction jobs a focus of the program? Has there been any discussion about preparing workers in the highway construction trades?

Local 825 Operating Engineers are highly trained and experienced heavy equipment operators, mechanics, and surveyors who offer unsurpassed productivity to contractors throughout New Jersey and five counties in New York’s Hudson Valley

Q.  We read that the IUOE program is one of two in the state. Are you aware of the other program?

HCCC is the only community college in New Jersey offering this program. Thomas Edison State University is another institution with a NJ PLACE 2.0 grant.

Q.  Do you see this as an ongoing program or dependent on grant funding that might not be forthcoming in future years?

Currently, the grant covers half the tuition and fees for students and the union covers the remaining portion. Both HCCC and the IUOE Local 825 are committed to the program. Our interests and missions align and I see the program continuing. The program itself enables students to train with and learn current technology, and improves readiness for current and future career pathways.

Looking Ahead

Q. What strategies should be pursued to encourage more NJ community college students to consider a career in the construction industry? Who should be leading or involved in those efforts?

Increasing awareness of the career pathways available in the construction industry would be helpful in encouraging more NJ community college students to consider this option. New Jersey's Community Colleges and New Jersey Business and Industry Association are leading a collaborative effort to address the rapidly changing needs of employers and providing students and workers with the career pathways they need to be successful.  As a key component of this coordinated workforce preparation effort, the NJ Council of County Colleges has launched 10 Centers of Workforce Innovation specifically focused on building pathways to serve the learning lifespan of students and workers. The Centers are clustered in four industries, Healthcare, Technology and Innovation, Infrastructure and Energy, and Manufacturing and Supply Chain Management.  HCCC is the administrative lead on the Construction Center of Workforce Innovation (part of the Infrastructure industry) and is partnered with Rowan College of South Jersey. There was a statewide convening on January 19th to kick off the planning phase of the work.

Q.  Through their on-the-job training and supportive services program, NJDOT is exploring ways to work with contractors, contracting associations, and unions on shaping their future workforces, by focusing on training and recruitment programs aimed at women, minorities, and other disadvantaged populations. Do you have any thoughts about how NJDOT might pursue this goal?

New Jersey’s 18 community colleges serve over 300,000 people in non-credit, credit, and workforce development courses

NJDOT Human Resources staff and/or senior leadership should partner with NJ’s community colleges so we can familiarize NJDOT with opportunities to align in-demand skills for degree programs and develop customized non-credit programs and training for their workforce. Community colleges can uptrain or re-train the NJDOT workforce to succeed in new or revamped roles. HCCC and other community colleges can also work with NJDOT to help the department achieve increased workforce representation among females and minorities. NJDOT can engage in conversations with educators and let us know what skills the NJDOT workforce needs so that we can help address skill gaps. There are 18 community colleges in the state; NJDOT could opt to reach out to the NJ Council of County Colleges to start the conversation.

NJDOT workers and others may want to consider taking advantage of the Community College Opportunity Grant initiative. New Jersey students enrolled in any one of the State’s 18 county colleges may be eligible for tuition-free college. Students who are enrolled in at least 6 credits per semester and who have an adjusted gross income of $0-$65,000 will be considered for this state grant.

 

Resources

Federal Highway Administration, Every Day Counts Round 6, Strategic Workforce Development. https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/innovation/everydaycounts/edc_6/strategic_workforce_development.cfm

Hudson County Community College, Workforce Development. https://www.hccc.edu/programs-courses/workforce-development/index.html

International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 825.  http://www.iuoe825.org/

NJ Community College Consortium for Workforce and Economic Development. https://njworkforce.org

NJ Department of Labor, NJ PLACE 2.0 Grants. https://www.nj.gov/labor/lwdhome/press/2020/20200131_njplace.shtml

NJ Department of Labor, Office of Apprenticeships. https://www.nj.gov/labor/career-services/apprenticeship/

NJ Pathways to Career Opportunities. https://njpathways.org/centers-of-workforce-innovation/

 

Innovation Spotlight: Testing and Deploying ITS Solutions for Safer Mobility and Operations

NJDOT’s Transportation Mobility unit is working on several initiatives related to FHWA Every Day Counts innovative initiatives, including: Crowdsourcing for Advancing Operations (EDC-4, EDC-6), Next Generation Traffic Incident Management (EDC-4, EDC-6), and Weather Responsive Management Strategies (EDC-4, EDC-5).  The unit has been creatively deploying STIC Incentive Grants and Accelerated Innovation Deployment (AID) grants to pilot test and evaluate innovations in recent years. We spoke with Sue Catlett, Project Manager in the Mobility Research Group, to provide updates on this work and discuss the coordination needed between agencies, organizations, and industry to make progress on these initiatives, and the barriers to deployment.

The Waycare crowdsourcing platform will feed information to NJDOT’s traffic operations centers to help resolve traffic issues and improve safety.

Crowdsourcing for Advancing Operations

Q.  Can you give us an update on the STIC incentive grant and the pilot of the Waycare crowdsourced data platform?

Waycare is in the DOT’s procurement process.  Once we have access to the information, the pilot will begin. We hope to see an increased situational awareness of the roadways.

Q.  Once it is deployed, will you have data coming in immediately?

We anticipate that we will have data but we will need to evaluate what that data means to us. For example, a key consideration is the definition of terms such as “crash incident,” and “accident.” We need to determine if we accept what the system’s definition of a term is or if we can set a definition.

Once the Waycare system is operating, NJDOT’s Intelligent Transportation Systems Resource Center (ITSRC), housed at New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT), will be working with NJDOT on the evaluation of the information coming in and matching it up with other information that DOT is utilizing.

Next Generation Traffic Incident Management

Q.  Can you update us on the deployment of the Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) integration with the State Police?  At the 3rd Quarter STIC meeting in September 2021, you mentioned that the State Police had deployed their CAD system and are still doing some fine-tuning.

The State Police deployed their system at the end of June and are continuing to make adjustments to the system and train staff in its use. They will be building out the system by adding modules. We are working with the State Police to determine how we will have access to the information gathered and we are working towards an agreement.

Q.  Traffic Incident Management must require coordination with numerous organizations, yes?

The Department promotes the safety of traffic incident first responders through their Move Over campaign.

Yes, in fact, we just had our statewide Traffic Incident Management (TIM) meeting today where we reported out on what we have been working on, what we will be doing in the next six months, and what help we will need from others. The various participating groups also report out. TIM involves coordination with first aid, EMS, the State Police, the MPOs, municipal fire departments, the Department of Health, and many others. We have been working on the Move Over bumper sticker campaign, and the National Crash Responder Safety Week was in November, so there are a lot of initiatives that we are working on through the year with a purpose of reducing time an incident is on a roadway and keeping first responders safe while responding to an incident.

Q.  Has there been any progress on establishing an Advanced Traffic Management System (ATMS) platform or core software? What are the steps involved? What are you ultimately looking for with this platform?

In our operations centers, we gather data from many systems such as highway cameras, and travel times, as well as other information. The ATMS platform would combine these multiple platforms into one so that NJDOT operators can look in one place for all the information collected. The State Police CAD data could be included in this core software system.

We want one platform for our existing systems and we are also looking towards what we will need in the future. We worked with an engineering consultant firm to determine required elements, desired elements, and future needs. We were looking for a vendor that has a system that was already built and could then be customized to meet the Department’s needs. Any system would need to work with systems that DOT is currently using. We consulted with NJDOT Safety Service Patrol (SSP) and electrical maintenance, among others, to see what future needs they could anticipate. We wanted to cast a wide enough net to avoid missing something that other groups can anticipate now that they would need later on. We also talked to other state DOTs to receive feedback about their systems.  The pandemic slowed progress on this effort and we have not contracted with a vendor yet.

It is anticipated that the platform will be built out through the addition of modular components. This makes it difficult to predict when the platform will be ready to use.

Weather Responsive Management Systems (WRMS)

Q.  Congratulations on receiving the ITS-NJ 2021 Outstanding Project Award for the Weather Savvy Roads project. What is happening with the project?

The Weather Savvy Roads project was a collaboration with many individuals and organizations.  The project has expanded to 23, and soon to be 24, equipped vehicles. Equipped trucks include six Safety Service Patrol vehicles (3 north, 3 south) which operate 24/7, two incident management response (IMRT) trucks which can respond to incidents at any time (1 north, 1 south), and Operations vehicles including 7 snow plow vehicles (3 north, 2 central, 2 south) and pickup trucks used by supervisors who can respond where needed. We are still working on modifications and analysis of the data we have received.

Weather Savvy instrumentation displays atmospheric conditions and a dashboard view of road conditions in real time.

The Mobile Road Weather Information System (MRWIS) provides information on ambient temperature, road temperature, road condition and grip, as well as a windshield view of road conditions. Management can see what the drivers are seeing. The information helps to assess a storm’s duration and intensity while it is ongoing. The data available through the system has helped management make decisions. For example, last winter a Director referred to the system to determine how much longer crews  would need to be out on the road based on conditions, and could predict another two hours commitment.

WRMS can also assist in traffic incident management. Video of an incident, captured by an NJDOT responder truck, provides much more information than a verbal description of an incident scene. The detail can help ensure that individuals in the field can get the appropriate support and get the road back open more quickly.

NJDOT has extended the pilot deadline to June 2022 to include a second winter using the WRMS. This expansion will allow us to test the system on a potentially wider range of weather conditions, and assess the durability of the equipment. Last winter, NJIT analyzed the information we were collecting and found an issue with the data being reported. The vendor had to change their manufacturing process to address condensation issues and we installed replacement sensors.

Q.  What do you anticipate being the next steps?

We are exploring how to bring this system inside the Department. Currently, the Weather Savvy website is hosted by the ITSRC at NJIT.

Other Innovative Initiatives Underway through Research or Other Activities

Q.  Are there non-EDC innovations being undertaken at NJDOT or elsewhere in NJ that should be highlighted to STIC partners? 

Drivewyze® is a phone app that is used to inform truck drivers of upcoming weigh stations, enabling drive-by of weigh stations, and provides in-cab alerts about slowdowns or other road issues. The Department could use the system to alert truckers to specific conditions, such as truck restrictions on snow-covered roadways before they enter the State, to allow truckers to make adjustments. NJDOT is trying the system out for a year to look at the value of the information and what impact it may have.

We are also using video analytics to look at truck parking in the Harding Truck Rest Area during winter storms. Both commercial trucks and Safety Service Patrol vehicles use this rest area, and the space can become overly full and entrances and exits can be blocked. SSP vehicles need to be able to get into and out of the area to respond to incidents and for shift changes. We installed devices in the parking stalls, which provide information indicating when they are occupied, and cameras identify when trucks are parked in non-marked parking spaces. From the data collected, we hope to determine prime times for usage, and we are trying to find a way to communicate with truckers. NJIT is conducting this study through the ITSRC.


Resources

More Information on the STIC initiatives highlighted in this interview is available using the following links:

Crowdsourcing for Advancing Operations - https://www.njdottechtransfer.net/2021/01/01/crowdsourcing-for-advancing-operations/

Next Generation TIM - https://www.njdottechtransfer.net/2021/04/19/next-generation-tim/

Weather Responsive Management Strategies - https://www.njdottechtransfer.net/weather-responsive-management-strategies/